Friday, December 07, 2018

Friday Questions

It’s always a little more poignant to spend December 7th in Hawaii. Let us never forget the day that will live in infamy.

Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

YEKIMI starts it off:

Do you find it harder to write comedy [or other stuff] nowadays then you did when you were younger? I can remember back in my high school years and later just writing joke after joke after joke. [Actually started writing jokes for morning DJs in my senior year of high school...and kept it up even after I went into radio myself, although I never did mornings.] Now that I'm way older, it seems the jokes are few and far between then they were in my younger days. I'm guessing maybe it's because every internal organ on me has malfunctioned except my spleen [and I'm keeping a sharp eye on that] and after several surgeries and other medical problems, things just don't seem that funny anymore.

Actually it’s the opposite for me.  I would have to say it's easier.  I guess the years of experience have allowed me to discover different ways of drawing out laughs. Or the world is just so horrific these days that I need the escape that comedy writing provides me. So as long as my organs continue to work I’ll keep writing.

From -30-:

A follow-up question about working late into the night. How productive are you
3 A.M? Can you really think of something better that didn't come to you at 10:30? Isn't your brain fried? I sometimes (rarely) had to work 16 hours at a non-creative job simply because the job had to be done by morning and I know the results weren't always stellar. I can't imagine trying to be funny when 99% of your brain is screaming "Let me out of here." Also, what time did these sessions start?

When I run a show I will usually end a late night rewrite at 1:30 and have everyone return earlier the next morning to finish and just send down to the stage what we have with instructions that the rest will eventually follow.

This is because you’re right. Something that takes an hour to fix when you’re fresh at 10 in the morning will take three hours at 3 in the morning and probably not be as sharp.

Another thing I do – if there’s one whole new scene or tough section to address we’ll do that first then go back and do the rest of the script. You don’t want to get to that tough section at 2 in the morning after you’re already burned out..

For late night sessions we usually don’t begin actually writing until 8 or 9. From 6-8 we’re discussing the attack and in many cases re-plotting the story.

I’m reminded of writer Earl Pomerantz taking a break at 1:30 in the morning from a late night rewrite and saying, “There has to be an easier way of making $300,000 a year.”

J Lee asks:

When you and David got your first writing assignment for M*A*S*H, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind", it was right after the show changed the relationship between Frank and Margaret, with her engagement to Donald. Was there anything you had thought about writing for them in terms of situations or lines (or rejoinders to them from Hawkeye) when you made your pitch for a script assignment that you now couldn't use, because what was good for Seasons 1-4 no longer worked for the dynamic in Season 5?

Gene Reynolds, who was the showrunner then, was incredibly organized. Before we pitched story ideas we met with him and he went over where the series was at that moment. He did it for that express purpose – so we wouldn’t be pitching stories they couldn’t use.  We knew where the characters were, what elements the show wanted to emphasize that year, etc. It made coming up with story ideas so much easier. All just part of good showrunning and Gene was the best.

And finally, from Jonny M.:

You often talk about giving writers more freedom from network interference as way to making better shows. After browsing through the list of original content on Amazon Prime and Hulu (where I'm assuming interference is limited), I'm seeing a lot of stinkers. Does this not give some credence to the idea that left to their own devices writers will often stray into vanity projects with limited appeal and questionable quality? I suppose those personal projects have brought us some great shows like Mad Men, but then on the other side you have results like A Crisis in Six Scenes (shouldn't have someone interfered with this one?).

First off, remember the late William Goldman’s famous line about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.

You never really know what’s going to work. And yes, there are stinkers, but such is the case with broadcast TV WITH all the interference.

But by giving writers more freedom you at least have the opportunity of landing something special like MAD MEN or THE SOPRANOS. Neither of those shows would have gotten on the major networks and if they did they’d be so over-managed that any truly original idea would be squelched. So as I see it, betting on talent is still a better roll of the dice.

What’s your Friday Question?


Tom Asher said...

Baseball question, Ken: why don't we see more stolen bases? Too many managers looking for the three run homer?

Janet said...

Thanks for calling attention to Pearl Harbor Day (although your graphic has its very own product placement...Pearl Harbor Day sponsored by USAA ;))

But seriously, the intersection of the death of George HW Bush and Pearl Harbor Day is a bit of a somber marker as Bush was the last WWII vet to serve as president and another reminder how we have lost and are losing the last of that Greatest Generation.

For Baby Boomers and Gen Xers (of which I'm the latter) these were our parents and grandparents. That means, sadly, something as important as Pearl Harbor Day is slipping from living memory (something that we can actually get stories about from living relatives) to actually becoming set in the amber of history. That's sad.

Before folks think I'm merely being maudlin, think about the fact that as the years and decades progress, the same thing ultimately will happen with 9/11, which for many alive today was just as much such a world changing moment for us as Pearl Day was for that generation 77 years ago.

Roger Owen Green said...

Here's a question - is your Thursday post invisible?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Network Notes are bad because they come from a position of Micromanaging instead of Supervising.
If you've ever watched an episode of Project Runway, you've seen Tim Gunn come into the designer's workspace 1/2 way thru an episode. He looks to see how they are each doing. He'll give some feedback, make a comment or suggestion but leave it to the designer (since of course, its a competition).
The Networks should do that...especially when it comes to the writing and the casting.

Ficta said...

I'm a bit baffled by Jonny M's question.

Metacritic has their year end critics list summary up now, which seems like as good a way as any to attempt an objective assessment of what process leads to "good" ("quality?") shows. Currently the top 18 shows are:

HBO - 4
FX - 4
Netflix - 4
AMC - 2
Amazon - 1
NBC - 1
BBC America - 1
CBS All Access - 1

Or, by type of service:

Basic Cable - 7
Streaming - 6
Premium Cable - 4
Broadcast TV - 1

When you delve into individual critics lists, the number of streaming shows that at least one professional TV critic thought was worthy of his or her top 10 list is crazy:

The Good Fight, Homecoming, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Forever, Patriot, The Kominsky Method, The End of the F***ing World, GLOW, Queer Eye, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, Bojack Horseman, American Crime Story, Dear White People, Maniac, Daredevil, Wild Wild Country, The Haunting of Hill House, Babylon Berlin, Cupcake and Dino, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Big Mouth, Terrace House, American Vandal, One Day at a Time

Broadcast networks muster just five shows (one of which was a one-off), and all on NBC:

The Good Place, This is Us, Superstore, Making It, Jesus Christ Superstar

The streaming model looks pretty solid to me. At least as a way to make shows that critics like...

Jonny M. said...

As details from the Les Moonves saga have emerged, are you shocked? From the NY Times: 'Investigators wrote that they had received “multiple reports” about a network employee who was “on call” to perform oral sex on Mr. Moonves.' I've worked in entertainment both in corporate offices and in production and I have seen and heard of some really bad behavior, but Les Moonves' transgressions are kind of blowing my mind. Maybe partially because, unlike Harvey Weinstein, this behavior was not happening in the privacy of hotel rooms and yachts but at the CBS offices. You have been around the industry a long time. What do you think when you hear about this?

Jonny M. said...

And thanks for answering my question today! Always cool to show up on FQs!

Anonymous said...

Visited alot of news sites today so far.....your post is the first one to have ANY reference at all to Pearl Harbor.

Even asked a couple of younger folks about the the millenial 2000-mile blank stare. Not a clue.

Not slipping from popular's gone.

Jonny M. said...

@FIcta - Jonny M. here and I'd like to respond to your comment that you're baffled by my question.

My question was, while network executives get a bad rep for interference, I'm guess I'm wondering if writer/creators left to their own devices do any better. Ken gave a what I think is a great answer via William Goldman: nobody knows anything.

And just to defend the networks, if you watched Julia Louise Dreyfus get her Mark Twain Award last month, Jerry Seinfeld admits that the character of Elaine was a network note.

And just to clarify - I'm not and never have been a network executive, but I started my career as an assistant to development executives at big time cable networks and while I met a few good people (and had one or two great bosses), it was mostly full of ass kissers, back stabbers, and petty tyrants.

TimWarp said...

And to leap-frog off of what Ficta said above, are you ever going to take another crack at watching Season 1 of "The Good Place"? (Even though by now the big twist has been spoiled.)

Peter said...

Ken, I strongly urge you to see the documentary film Three Identical Strangers. I went to see it yesterday and it's a truly astonishing story and film. I don't know how much you know about it but the less you know going in, the better.

It shows the best of humanity but also the worst. Incredible stuff.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I too, find it easier and harder to joke about things as I approach senior citizenship. Easier because now I see the absurdity of things that used to seem deadly serious to me when I was a teen or my twenties. And its even more important to find the humor in things these days, so the world doesn't crush you. Harder, because everyone is so hypersensitive that even the most innocent comment can get you labeled an "" or a "...phobe," etc.

Regarding J Lee's question. I have heard that T.V. shows have what they call "the bible." It is supposed to be a reference source about the characters to keep things consistent. Is it just a rumor or is there really such a thing? Considering how many shows seem to "forget" things from earlier seasons I've often wondered if the "bible" actually exists.

I've said this a dozen times before, but ITS ALL SUBJECTIVE. I'm sure that there are several shows on cable and streaming would be quickly cancelled if they were on broadcast networks. And too many critics think in terms of the "snob" factor. Streaming and pay cable have a mystique that give their shows more cachet. Deserved or not.
But outside of television, look at the effect that deregulation has had in other areas of society. Most would agree that some restraints are necessary.

Unknown said...

My Grandfather married my Grandmother 12.10.41. Prior, they were going on leave. A superior asked my Grandpa where he was headed, and he said, "leave with my gal." "No, you're not. Pearl Harbor has been attacked." They were married in Norfolk, VA 3 days later, and he was on his way to Newfoundland.

JenW said...

I've been watching this - - The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel the past few nights and love it.
I figured out why last night - it reminds me a bit of Neil Simon.
Just wondering if you have seen yet and what your thoughts are?

Matt said...

You said it is easier to find jokes now than when you were younger. Do you ever go back to your earlier work and think to yourself, “what idiot wrote that?” Do you think your comedy style has changed as you have aged?

DBA said...

Tom Asher, there has been quite a lot of statistical analysis done suggesting that most of the time, for most runners, stolen bases are actually not worth the risk. There are scenarios (and certain baserunners) for whom that is not the case, but mathematically, you're better off staying put on the base you're on. With the rise of sabremetrics, it's not surprising to me that managers don't send the runner, or don't give them the green light to go if they want to. The math now says not to.

Janet said...

Ken, sort of tying in about your recent discussion of script vs. improvisation, I would be curious as to your experience how directors have helped translate your script into a finished product. Have the directors kept things as you and David envisioned, or did they change things either positively or negatively?

Consider it an FQ or perhaps a podcast topic. Thanks!

Tom Galloway said...

While not disrespecting Pearl Harbor's victims, it is the case that myself and other folk I know whose birthday is December 7th long ago got tired of "date that will live in infamy" references, especially when worked into birthday greetings. I at least prefer to think of as the true birthday of the USA, as Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution on Dec. 7th, 1787. (about a half : -), and much sympathy to anyone with a 9/11 birthday).

Wally said...

@Mike Bloodworth

Some TV show bible links:

Milton the Momzer said...

A Friday question for you: I watched a Christmas episode of Becker you directed. There was a scene where Becker was stuck in traffic driving from the Bronx to Queens. The scene was on a set with maybe another 10 cars around Becker's car. How was that coordinated?

Nick Archer said...

Poignant or poi-gnant?